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Marta Peral Ribeiro

Marta Peral Ribeiro
– Communication Consultant –

Neuromarketing: Do brands really know what drives consumers?

The area of behavioral science has been particularly useful for marketing, which has come to understand that the deeper we know our target audience, the more effective our communication can be.

And 2020 represented an excellent opportunity to see the importance of human behavior: basically, many expenditure issues are related to behavioral issues.

Marta Peral Ribeiro
– Communication Consultant –

Neuromarketing: Do brands really know what drives consumers?

The area of behavioral science has been particularly useful for marketing, which has come to understand that the deeper we know our target audience, the more effective our communication can be.

And 2020 represented an excellent opportunity to see the importance of human behavior: basically, many expenditure issues are related to behavioral issues.

A cocktail of emotions

Every year there is an investment of billions of euros in marketing. And these numbers will tend to increase in the coming years:

Global advertising revenue 2012-2014Statista – Global advertising revenue 2012-2024


Companies have always looked for triggers to persuade us to buy their products and services, exploiting emotions like love, empathy, belonging, pride, lust, guilt, fear, shame and nostalgia.

And this is where Neuromarketing comes in, a much more sophisticated marketing strategy than traditional ones, because it crosses marketing with neuroscience, going to the heart of the matter: people’s real motivations.

The heart has reasons that reason itself is unaware of

When we are faced with a product, there is a curious phenomenon that occurs: a conflict between mind and heart. One part of our brain presents a logical justification to buy or not, while another part, associated with emotions, presents subconscious motivations to do so.

If what the consumers say does not always correspond to what they think, predicting their behavior is not exactly measurable. But neuroscientists have already discovered something important:

Which side (logical or emotional) wins the battle.

Neuromarketing doesn’t sell to the customer: it sells to your mind


brain illustrationMilad B Fakurian – Unsplash


Through neuroscience, which studies the nervous system, it is possible to analyze the reactions that occur in different regions of the consumer’s brain when faced with a product, revealing the effect produced at an emotional level.

Having identified that our purchasing decisions are based much more on emotions than on rationality – neuromarketeers can optimize their strategy to stimulate certain regions of the brain to achieve a certain effect. Not least because no one likes to convey a message that is not received.

In practical terms, they can adjust communication to the target audience and set guidelines for developing their products. That is: segment the message to those who will really see and hear it.

Eye viewing digital information represented by circles and signs, background depth of field. Technology concept. 3D illustration

What goes into the mind of the consumer?

Through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), an examination that reveals images of the brain in high definition and with color distinction, it is possible to:  

  • Analyze the activity that occurs in the different regions of the brain – namely in the insula, area associated with emotions.
  • Do eye tracking – pupil dilation, which receives stimuli from the outside and which we cannot control, indicating the degree of interest we have in what we are visualizing.
  • To observe the muscular response and the temperature of an individual’s skin when it is stimulated and relate it to brain activity.

If Neuroscience is combined with Artificial Intelligence, the results are even more powerful: brands can not only predict customer preferences and behavior but also model/influence them.

How do we get seduced by the brands?

Childhood brands

We all grew up in a certain culture, imbued with habits, beliefs, and values.  And we assume that they are the norm – including the brands that accompanied our childhood.

Yes, our brains began recording these preferences unconsciously around the age of 7 – some even before that.

It is no accident that many products we buy now, from the most common (such as toothpaste, creams, drinks, mayonnaise, olive oil or detergents) to the most sophisticated (such as game consoles, footwear, watches, appliances or cars), tend to be of the same brands that existed in the home we grew up in.

This explains why children represent an extraordinarily strong market for marketeers: the younger we are when we start using a particular brand or product, the more likely we are to continue to use it in future years.

For example, how many of us grew up with Super Mario, perpetuating Nintendo in our homes?

evolution of super mario

Fireproof associative memory

The memories of our childhood are so rooted in our mind that they can withstand brain damage.

It has already been noted in individuals with Alzheimer’s and other types of neurological alterations (derived from accidents, for example) who, after smelling a certain smell or listening to a certain song, exhibited a high activity in specific regions of the brain linked to emotions.

Knowing the value of childhood memories, many brands develop strategies that unconsciously transport us to the past.

escultura homem com Cérbero à vistaDavid Matos – Unsplash

On/off mode

There are the products we buy out of necessity: they are part of the day to day, and we need to replace them when they are finished. They are those that we buy routinely during the week, when we are in “work” mode (on mode, let’s say).

Meanwhile the weekend, or the holidays, come along in which we relax (off mode). We are more emotionally available and want to acquire another type of products, that compensate us, that pamper us.

By trying out a new product, which also proves interesting, our brain will register a pleasant feeling. Later, in a subconscious attempt to feel that well-being again, we end up repeating the purchase of this product.

In other words: it becomes part of the routine, although brands can usually add a special ingredient to create addiction (physical or psychological).

Neuromarketing techniques within reach of any brand

5 seconds of attention

Perception Research Services has identified that when consumers see a product, their pupils dilate and look at it for 5 seconds, trying to understand it quickly and deciding whether to purchase it.

For this reason, the packaging must have a simple design and contain the essential information, with objective indications of use, thinking of the customer’s perspective.

Simplify communication and image

  • Colors and font: Some of the easiest features to work with are colors (contrast), font, icons, and slogan.
  • Affirmative language: Using positive words generate a dopamine discharge, the neurotransmitter of pleasant sensations. That is, they transmit power to the consumers and motivate them because they feel well-being.


From the layout to the target of the information, through the message itself, all contents must be well thought out, so that the users find the information they want intuitively.

Social Media

Captions of posts can be enhanced if they speak directly to the audience, especially if they touch the emotions. With the right words, it is possible to motivate the purchase.

Email marketing

When an email/newsletter is addressed to someone, the recipient’s name should be at the beginning. This spontaneously creates closeness, capturing the readers’ attention and motivating them to keep reading.

Face images

The publicity in which we see other human beings transmits immediate identification. Especially in children’s articles, images with faces quickly capture our attention and provoke empathy – especially if the child in the image is looking “directly” at the consumer.

The timing of campaigns

The “off mode”, explained earlier, comes when we relax (typically when we’re not working), making it the ideal time for a brand to launch products or campaigns.

Celebrities and influencers

A product promoted by a celebrity or influencer has a powerful impact because they are themselves regarded as brands.

Particularly in the case of influencers, the consumer sees their message as being more authentic than the advertising of the actual brand. In addition, it recognizes and memorizes products more easily.

Price perception

To assess whether a product is expensive or not, or to infer its quality, the consumers need to compare prices between equivalent products. Later, they usually look for the one with the greatest economic advantage.


The price of a set of products seems high, even if it is more economical than buying each product separately. But a label that compares the price of each product with the price of the whole lot changes the perception.

Analysis of results

It is essential to analyze the results frequently, to evaluate not only the number of new consumers that you have managed to engage, but also the performance of the strategy and its return.

No “free” lunches – no free Apps

@franki – Unsplash


In exchange for discounts, entertainment, or “exclusive” content, we deliver our data daily to various companies and entities – the new currency of exchange, valid worldwide: our data.

Virtually everything we do interferes with our data, such as:

  • cookies that we accept on our computers
  • images we share on networks, including mentioning who we are with and where
  • photos we submit in certain Apps to access a special effect
  • email that we have to give if we want to access a “exclusive” content
  • card payments (record where we are, what we buy and how much we spend)
  • discount cards (record the products we buy)

By tracking our data and activity and combining it with information obtained through functional magnetic resonance imaging, marketing experts can segment the message and use mechanisms that lead us to a particular action.

In addition, they can implant desires through subconscious emotional or psychological triggers, related to research we do or to pages with which we interact.

Is the consumer fatally held hostage by neuromarketeers?

The chicken or the egg

Despite the undeniable power of neuromarketing, it is the consumer who in fact masters the rules of the game. After all, if the product or content does not add value, the consumer will not buy it if they don’t want to.

In addition, consumers, more than ever, demand transparency and compliance on behalf of brands.

The wheel of fortune

Given the dexterity they have in moving in digital, the consumers can easily undermine the good image of a brand. Just as they influence each other in favor of brands, consumers can also expose them negatively and – and on a national scale.  It all depends on how aligned consumers are with brands.

Finally, given the pandemic that transformed the world, it is no longer possible to predict with the same precision whether demand will follow the trend or assume that it will remain stable in the near future.

The consumer as an active agent

The power of word of mouth

Martin Lindstrom, one of today’s greatest marketeers, explains in his book Brandwashed the incredible power we have in influencing each other, much more than the publicity we constantly see. And the same goes for children and young people.

When we admire and respect someone, whether it’s a family member, a friend, a colleague, we tend to follow their choices and recommendations (whether they verbalize them or not). Especially when we recognize them to have authority in the matter.

What happens is that there is an increase in activity in the brain region associated with social emotions, unlike what happens in other areas linked to the rational side, where the activity decreases.

And when we like a product that was recommended to us, we also end up referencing it to other people. Can you imagine the exponential power of this chain of influence?

What do the brands you wear say about you? Or who do you want to be?

For consumers, neuromarketing provides an insight into our internal psychology, identified by our purchasing patterns: the brands we choose convey, in part, our identity and lifestyle.

Being aware of the impact we have on each other; it is also up to us to make use of the active role we have as consumers who influence each other.

On the one hand, reflecting on the brands we choose to support and, on the other, using this for the greater good. For example, pushing brands to develop greener products.


Charlize’s shoes

A Dutch study suggests that the persuasive power of a celebrity has a biological origin. The medial orbitofrontal cortex (brain region associated with decision-making) becomes more active when women looked at pictures of celebrity shoes.

feet with high heels

The minimal design of Apple

Apple packaging is an ode to design: from an immaculate white, with a simple logo recognized around the world and little information for the user to capture the essentials in a few seconds.

And it’s not just a matter of aesthetics: when the customers open the packaging (easy to open), they can use the product intuitively.

This is a brand that clearly focuses on the consumer.

iphone packaging

ipad packaging


While maintaining awareness and professional ethics, marketeers can use the knowledge provided by neuroscience to understand what drives the consumer and deliver the right message to the right audience.

Although brands have many subreptitious ways of persuading us to buy their products, we are not merely manipulated by companies. After all, even the biggest gurus of neuromarketing are also consumers, equally likely to be persuaded and pressured socially.

On the other hand, the consumers also benefit from neuromarketing, because they enjoy the improvement of the products, increasingly suited to their needs, which reiterates that the consumer also has great power over the brands.

Finally, the biggest irony is: the main persuaders are, precisely, consumers, because through word of mouth they are recommending the products they like and thus influencing their peers. No marketing strategy beats that.